I was browsing through Barnes & Noble the other evening, and decided to look for the magazine I used to work for. Over the past few months I’d make a point to look for it if I was at a book store or near a newsstand, and I’d been unable to find it at any of them. I had almost given up hope, assuming the publication, which had long been the company’s gem and flagship, had finally met its demise – something that seemed inevitable or almost necessary. But alas, I found a stack of the March issue as well as a stack of the spring spinoff magazine at the Barnes & Noble.
Every time I flip through one I glance at the masthead. Years ago, I used to do it just to see my name. I felt so proud to have my name listed in print in a major publication that people all over the country read. In more recent years, I would look at the masthead to see how much further my name had ascended the list of staffers – something that was both exciting and saddening. Yes, it meant I was moving up in the chain of command, but it also meant colleagues, many of whom were my friends, had been let go in the series of layoffs that started mid-2008. These days, now that I am one of the many who have been laid off, I look at the masthead to see if anyone I know is still there, to see what veterans “they” held on to. On this particular glance, the list of names was looking as small and dismal as ever.
I flipped a few pages further and came to the “Editor’s Note,” the editor-in-chief’s column that I was in charge of editing and managing month after month. I found this month’s topic – chosen by the head honcho and column’s author – very ironic: “How to be great.” The column talked about some of the qualities of greatness, especially the qualities of a great company; how when you enter a “great” company, you simply know it, and that these types of companies are built by “great” leaders.
I actually don’t disagree with anything the column says. I honestly think the magazine I used to work for was a great company – at the editorial level, at least – and that it’s leader was one of the best. In the twenty-something years she was at the magazine, Rieva Lesonsky brought the magazine to its world-renowned status. She became the face of the publication that readers and small-business owners all around the country looked to. And she did all that while being a great leader to the magazine’s team. She guided us, encouraged us, fought for us and gave us amazing opportunities that we might not have gotten anywhere else. Though I was sad to see her go (in mid-2008 right before the layoffs started), I knew she was better off pursuing her own endeavor and helping even more people – and on her own terms.
Rieva obviously wasn’t the author of this month’s “Editor’s Note.” New management came in after she left. And that’s where I think the irony comes into play. If you know “instinctively” that a company is great the second you walk through its doors, you would think the new editor would have been able to sense that upon starting at the magazine. Sure, change is good, and I’m not going to argue that a little change wasn’t good – or even needed – for the magazine. But I just find it very ironic that she speaks with so much clout on the topic of greatness and great companies, but that when she was given the opportunity to work for one, she failed to see it. All she wanted to do was change it.
I’m not writing this out of spite or to slam my former employer or to vent like other hotheaded former employees. I’ve moved on from my feelings of letdown and bitterness. Being laid off when I was, was actually a blessing in disguise and just the push I needed to get out of a place I was no longer happy.
Before all the “reorganizing” started happening, I actually enjoyed my time there. I gained some of the best journalism experience I could have asked for, with a handful of amazing editors teaching and guiding me along the way.
It’s just really sad that I had gotten to a point of unhappiness at work. I no longer looked forward to the responsibilities and opportunities I had been given. The credibility and high quality of the magazine I used to be so proud of was headed down the drain, and the team I had grown so close to was disappearing before my eyes. The editorial team had disintegrated into a handful of once-loyal employees who were now simply doing their jobs to make a paycheck and just happy to be employed in this economy.
Does that sound like a quality of a great company? According to this month’s “Editor’s Note,” it sounds far from it. While I can’t speak for the people that are there now or what the environment is currently like, I think it’s reasonable to assume that things probably didn’t get much better. It just seems that if you’re going to dedicate a column to talking about “greatness” and being a “great leader” and leading a “great company,” you should know something about it. A person’s words are much more credible and believable when they have the evidence and experience to back it up. If a circus clown told me how to fly a plane, I don’t know that I’d put a lot of weight on his advice, that’s all.
Obviously I did a lot of thinking after reading the column. I stood there staring at the pages and the author’s mugshot for quite a while. Finally, I flipped a couple pages and landed on an article titled: “Employees. Who needs ’em?” Huh, that seems a bit ironic too. Must be the theme this month . . .